Istanbul is as much a sacred city, as our Prophet (saas) has stated in the hadith regarding the End Times, as it is important in terms of its geographical position and history.
The history of settlement in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest and most beautiful city, goes back to the Megarians who settled in the present-day areas of Kadıkoy (Kalkhedon) and Sarayburnu. The city’s earliest name, Byzantium, was bestowed in honor of the commander Byzos.
The city was subject to various conquests over the course of 9 centuries. In 196 AD, it was captured by the Roman Emperor Severus and refounded by the will of the emperor’s son, Antonius Caracalla, under the new name of Antonina. In 269 AD it fell into the hands of the Goths, and back into Roman hands in 313 AD. After being rebuilt by Constantine the Great in the early 4th century, it took the name Constantinopolis and first appeared under that name in official documents in Emperor Theodosius’ "Book of Laws."
The emperor transferred his capital from Rome to Istanbul, and although the city was also given the names Second Rome (Deutera Rome) and New Rome (Nea Roma), it was the name Constantinopolis that stuck. When the empire was divided in two in 395 AD, the city remained the capital of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire from that date until 1453.
Istanbul was besieged 30 times during the Byzantine period; by the Huns, Avars and Sassanids between the 4th and 15th centuries, 11 times by the Arabs, 6 times by the Bulgars, Seljuk Turks. Pecheneks and Crusaders, and 7 times by the Ottomans. It finally fell to Sultan Fatih the Conqueror to take the city after the 30th siege. The Ottomans preserved all the inhabitants’ rights, rebuilt the city and made it the center of the sultanate by choosing it as their capital.
Istanbul appeared as Constantinople for many years in official documents and on coinage, but was always best known and lived on as Istanbul, despite being referred to by the Ottomans by such names as Dar al-Khilafa (Home of the Caliphate), Dar al-Sultan (Home of the Sultanate), Dar al-Aliya (Home of the State), Asitana (Threshold of the State), Dar al-Saadat (Home of Happiness), Salatin (The Sultan’s Gate), Belde at-Tayyiba (The Lovely Land), Islambol (The Place Full of Muslims), Dar al-Mulk (The Place of the Sultan), Payitaht-i Saltanat (The Capital of the Sultanate) and Sudda al-Saltanat (The Threshold of the Sultanate).
This city, which witnessed the Greek, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Turkish civilizations, was never of secondary importance to any of them, and always attracted the highest level of interest. It was a highly cosmopolitan city in which Christians, Jews and Muslims lived together in peace for many years.
It had the honor of being the capital of the Ottoman world empire. By bringing the Islamic world’s and the West’s leading statesmen, thinkers and political experts under the umbrella of a Harmony of Civilizations, Istanbul, the center from which Turks shaped the world, once again showed that it has not lost its former worth.
There is another important aspect of the history of Istanbul in historical, political and social terms. That significance was expressed 1400 years ago, by various means, by our Prophet (saas).
Hazrat Mahdi (as), Turkey and Istanbul
As it appears from the hadith of our Prophet (saas) and in the works of many Islamic scholars, Allah will lead the people suffering the terrible corruption of the End Times (the last age of the world) to salvation. He will employ a servant with superior high moral values and bearing the title of “Hazrat Mahdi (as)” (the one leading to the true path) in order to call humanity to the true path.
As revealed in the hadith, the Prophet Jesus (as) will come to earth within the same period with Hazrat Mahdi (as) who will demolish those intellectual systems that deny Allah and support atheism. The Prophet Jesus (as) and Hazrat Mahdi (as) will also address the Christian and Jewish worlds, will free them from the superstitions into which they have fallen and call on them to live by the Qur’an. As the Christians follow the Prophet Jesus (as) the Islamic and Christian worlds will unite in a single belief, and the world will enter a time of great peace, security, happiness and well-being known as the “Golden Age.”
When we look at the hadith and the works of great Islamic scholars, we see that Turkey is indicated as the place where Hazrat Mahdi (as) will appear. With its superior moral values, the Turkish nation is the best suited to perform the honorable task it will undertake in the Golden Age. The fact that the Turkish nation, which will bring peace and security to the world in the Golden Age, will also spread the moral values of Islam from Turkey, further increases the significance of the city as the country’s heart. Because the reference sources in question all stress the importance of Istanbul.
Hazrat Mahdi’s (as) Spiritual Conquest of Istanbul
Allah will capture Constantinople by Hazrat Mahdi's (as) hand:
Naim ibn Hammad reports from Jaffar: ”Hazrat Mahdi (as) will send his army in all directions. He will destroy oppression and the oppressors. Nations will come under his command. Allah will make him the instrument of the capture of Constantinople.” (Al-Burhan fi Alamat al-Mahdi Akhir al-Zaman, 56)
Allah will capture Constantinople through His beloved friends. (Portents of Doomsday, 181)
... Many scholars from various countries will set out, unaware of one another, to seek Hazrat Mahdi (as), and 310 people will accompany each one.
Eventually they will all meet in Mecca, and when they ask one another why they have come, they will all reply: "We are looking for Hazrat Mahdi (as), who will prevent this corruption and capture Constantinople, because we have learned the names of his father and his mother and his army. (Al-Burhan fi Alamat al-Mahdi Akhir al-Zaman, 52, Al-Qawl al-Mukhtasar fi Alamat al-Mahdi al- Muntadhar, 42)
Abu Hussein Ahmad ibn Jaffar al-Munadi reports from Abu Huraira in his "Kitab al-Malahim:" "Your commander, who distinguishes between truth and falsehood, who neither deceives nor steals, and who is devoted to the faith, will capture Constantinople." (Iqdud Durar Fi Akhbar al-Muntadhar) Hazrat Mahdi (as) will Capture Constantinople and Mount Daylam. (Al-Qawl al-Mukhtasar fi Alamat al-Mahdi al- Muntadhar, 27)
Ibn Majah has quoted Abu Huraira (ra) as saying: “Even if no time is left to the world but a single day, Allah will certainly prolong that day in order for an individual from my family to take Mount Daylam and the city of Constantinople. ” (Al-Burhan fi Alamat al-Mahdi Akhir al-Zaman, p. 74)
During the capture of Constantinople Hazrat Mahdi (as) will plant a flag while performing his ablution for the morning prayer; the sea will party in two and thus the water will be withdrawn, and Hazrat Mahdi (as) will cross to the other side through the path that opens up. (Portents of Doomsday, p. 181; Al-Qawl al-Mukhtasar fi Alamat al-Mahdi al- Muntadhar, p. 57)
Allah will capture Constantinople for His beloved friends. (Portents of Doomsday, p. 181)
It is reported by Ibn Amr (ra) that Our Prophet (saas) said: O People! There are six things without which Doomsday will not fall... The sixth is the conquest of the city. “Which city? They asked.” Constantinople, he replied. “This is the capture of Constantinople by Hazrat Mahdi (as).” (Portents of Doomsday, p. 204; Ramuz Al-Ahadith, p. 296)
Abu Huraira narrated: “After the Greeks [Rum] oppresses a governor from my line whose name matches mine has been appointed, they will wage war against you at a place called Amiq. One-third of Muslims will be killed here. On the third day, the battle will turn against the Greeks. The Muslims will continue fighting and will capture Constantinople and seize all the goods within it. At that exact moment they will hear a voice saying, "The Dajjal has entered your home and taken your children captive." (Al-Burhan fi Alamat al-Mahdi Akhir al-zaman, p. 73)
(Hazrat Mahdi (as)) will battle against the Greeks [Rum] for three days, and on the third day the victory will be his. The battle will continue until Constantinople is captured.( Al-Qawl al-Mukhtasar fi Alamat al-Mahdi al- Muntadhar, p. 29)
Hazrat Mahdi (as) Will Seize Istanbul with Tasbih and Takbir (by remembering and glorifying Him and praising His being the Greatest)
We are told in the hadiths that Hazrat Mahdi’s (as) conquest of Istanbul will be a spiritual one. Hazrat Mahdi (as) will use no violence as he makes the Islamic morality prevail in Istanbul and the rest of the world, and will achieve this solely through the remembrance of Allah and praise of His names. The way that Hazrat Mahdi (as) will be victorious solely with takbir and tasbih is described as follows in the hadiths:
The Hour will not come until Almighty Allah ensures the conquest of Constantinople, the center of the Roman Empire, by His believing servants with tasbih and takbir. (Ramuz al-Ahadith, p. 478)
The Hour will not come until Almighty Allah ensures the conquest of Constantinople and the Roman (lands) for believers through tasbih and takbir. (Daylami, al-Firdaws, 5/82, no: 7524; at-Tabarani, al-Mu`jam al-Kabir, 17/15,21)
They will conquer Constantinople with Tasbih and Takbir (saying "Subhan Allah" and "Allahu Akbar"), and they will obtain booty the like of which has never been seen… (Ibn Majah)
As reported from Amr ibn Awf;
Allah will better him [forgive him, or give him success and the inspiration of wisdom and guidance] in a night. He will capture the Roman city [Istanbul] with takbir… (Muhyiddin ibn al-Arabi, al-Futuhat al- Makkiya, section 366, Vol. 3, pp. 327- 328)
Naim ibn Hammad narrates from Abu Said al- Hudri; Our Prophet (saas) said: In his (Hazrat Mahdi’s (as) time) the sleeper will not be awakened and not a single drop of blood will be spilt. (Al-Burhan fi Alamat al-Mahdi Akhir al-Zaman, p. 11).
Hazrat Mahdi (as) will follow the path of the Prophet (saas), and will not waken the sleeper, and no blood will be shed. (Portents of Doomsday, p. 163)
It is emphasized in the hadith and the works of Islamic scholars that Hazrat Mahdi (as) will create no disruption or unease during his struggle. One can think of Hazrat Mahdi’s (as) tasks as follows: He will rid Islam of all the false traditions and bidah (invention of new methods of worship that are usually serious deviations from the original religion of Islam) that have been added onto it. At the same time, he will wage a highly effective intellectual campaign against ideological systems (such as materialism, Darwinism and atheism) that deny the existence of Allah. He will introduce the whole world to the moral values of Islam, that will bring with them the climate of peace and security that mankind has been seeking for so long, and will lead the Islamic world.
The point to be noted here is the fact that Hazrat Mahdi (as) will accomplish all this by moderate, peaceful and rational means. That is also the sense in which the spiritual conquest of Istanbul should be evaluated.
Hazrat Mahdi’s (as) Presence in the Same City of the Sacred Relics
He will emerge with the Prophet’s (saas) cloth banner. That banner will have four corners and will be stitchless and black in color. There will be a crescent on it. The banner, that will never have been unfurled since the death of the Prophet (saas), will be unfurled when Hazrat Mahdi (as) opens it.” (Al-Burhan fi Alamat al-Mahdi Akhir al-Zaman, p. 23)
These sacred relics of our Prophet’s (saas) (his sword, shirt and banner) are kept in Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. The banner referred to in the hadith and which has never been unfurled is also in this alace. According to the museum’s Sacred Relics Department, there are two banners in the museum. One was sewn subsequently and contains fragments taken from the old banner. The other is not on show to the public. This may be the banner referred to in the hadith which will be opened by Hazrat Mahdi (as). (Allah knows the truth)
Istanbul Is Indicated in the Qur’an
Surat al-Kahf is one of those to which the Prophet Muhammed (saas) and many Islamic scholars refer in the context of the End Times, and therefore of Hazrat Mahdi (as). The stories in the surah contain many secrets and references to the End Times. Surat al-Kahf should therefore be read and thought about in the context of the End Times.
In verse 60 of Surat al-Kahf, Allah says: “Remember when Musa said to his servant, ‘I will not give up until I reach the meeting-place of the two seas, even if I must press on for many years’.”
In this verse, Allah speaks of the Prophet Musa (as) and a young friend agreeing on a meeting place. The distinguishing feature of that meeting place is that it is where two seas also meet. The place referred to by the Prophet Musa (as) must be one of the regions in the world matching that description. The place where two seas meet in the hadith is Istanbul. This is also the place where Hazrat Mahdi (as) and the Prophet Jesus (as) will meet in the End Times. (Allah knows the truth.)
The Turkish Nation’s Administrative Legacy, Superior Morality and the 21st Century
Some people with an interest in the subjects of Hazrat Mahdi (as) and the End Times fall into a serious error. They imagine that these matters are completely different to the world we live in and its laws, and exist in an entirely metaphysical dimension. They therefore imagine that both the End Times and Hazrat Mahdi (as) are idealized concepts far from the plane on which we dwell.
Looking at the social and political conditions, it is likely that Hazrat Mahdi (as) will appear from a democratic country with an imperial tradition, a country with a powerful and important position in the Islamic world. Hazrat Mahdi (as) is a spiritual entity representing the devout soul of the highly virtuous, heroic and loyal Turkish nation.
Nobody should be surprised by this. Because the Turkish nation, with its compassionate and tolerant approach embracing people from different nationalities, religions and races, has been a leading nation that carried the banner of Islam for centuries. When the Abbasid Dynasty lost its political power a few centuries after the death of the Prophet (saas), the Turkish nation assumed the task of protecting the Islamic world. The Turkish nation was the force that mainly resisted the Crusaders and the Mongol invaders. The caliphate passed directly into Turkish hands with Sultan Selim the Stern. The Ottoman Empire ruled for hundreds of years as the most powerful Islamic state. Today, too, Turkey is the most powerful and the most influential country in the Islamic world, the most respected in Western eyes, and a meeting place for many civilizations.
In addition to these historic and political attributes, the Turkish nation’s moral values also make it deserving of the leading role. The Turks are a nation who founded great states, lived with the burdens of their responsibilities and were targeted by powerful foes. They thus possess a moral maturity stemming from that history, and the kind of superiority ensuing from their devoutness to Allah and moral perfection. For these reasons, the Turkish nation deserves and is fitted to be “the spiritual leader of the nations of the world” in the 21st century.